Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sizing up the 2013 NHL draft board

As published in SportsReported.com  
In many draft classes there is a clearcut choice. Crosby, Stamkos, Ovechkin.
But this year it was a toss up. Fans in rinks across the country debated the merits of who would go on stage first. Towering American defenseman Seth Jones or Cole Harbour’s Nathan MacKinnon. Then dynamic and skilled forward Jonathan Drouin pushed his name into the mix with an outstanding season and World Juniors.
And even though Central Scouting ranked Jones first overall, until the draft order was set in April there was still a lot up in the air. It would all depend on what the team wanted. A solid blueliner or a skilled forward.
With the Coloarado Avalanche winning the lottery, it looks like it will be Jones going number one.
Although, the Avalanche’s director of amateur scouting, Rick Pracey, has said in interviews following the Draft Lottery in April that drafting Jones isn’t a slam dunk.
Well, he may have been just being nice. The Avalanche do not have standout defensemen and their stat sheet is littered with minuses.
The Portland Winterhawks defenseman is the type of player you can build a franchise around. He’s able to quarterback a power play, has a mean slapshot and has the ability to make breakout passes. Not to mention he’s a damn fine athlete (With former NBAer Popeye Jones as a dad, how can you not be a good athlete?).
Not only all of that, but he’s a hometown kid of sorts, playing minor hockey in Denver while his dad played for the Denver Nuggets.
Pretty much a slam dunk, yes?
Meanwhile teammates Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon are both making compelling cases for themselves. At the time of writing this article, the Halifax Mooseheads were two games deep into the QMJHL finals and they still hadn’t lost a game.
Drouin leads the league’s playoff scoring with 30 points, and MacKinnon sits one point back. Both in just 14 games.
Which team takes which player will come down to what they’re looking for. MacKinnon has had many people compare him to Sidney Crosby. And why not. He hails from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia the same hometown as Crosby. He also played at the same U.S. prep school, Shattuck St. Mary’s, prior to a career in the QMJHL. But the real comparison comes with the work ethic. He also has excellent skating – his first two strides leave many defenders looking behind them. He also has that same low center of gravity that makes Crosby so effective.
Meanwhile, Drouin has hands. Fancy hands. Seriously fancy hands. Take a look on YouTube for Drouin goal highlights and you’ll find dazzling plays where you wonder if the puck is indeed taped to his stick. At 5-foot-11 and 176 pounds Drouin’s knock is his size and strength.
Back to the drafting order. It’s hard to say which Florida team will take which player. Florida Panthers have the #2 pick and Tampa Bay has #3. Both Drouin and MacKinnon played on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau in the CHL Prospects game and had instant chemistry.
Some experts have Finnish centre Aleksander Barkov higher than fourth. But it seems unlikely. Both General Managers, Dave Tallon (Florida) and Steve Yzerman (Tampa Bay) have been spotted scouting at the Halifax Metro Centre. Whichever player Florida takes, it would be safe to assume Tampa Bay will pick up the other.
Tampa is weak on the blueline. However, the next possible prospects are a little further down the line, although Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds has steadily climbed the rankings.
Moving down to the number 4 pick, it’s likely the aforementioned Barkov will head to the Nashville Predators. The top-rated European skater played for Finland at the World Juniors and notched 48 points in 53 games playing in the Finnish Elite League.
At number 5, the Carolina Hurricanes will be hoping that picking in the top five will work out better than their 2005 pick of Jack Johnson, who inevitably strained his relationship with management and the Canes traded his rights to the L.A Kings.
Despite being burned by that pick, one of the names that keeps popping up is super-strong six-foot-four Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin. Nichushkin has even been touted as the next Evgeni Malkin.
Sounds like a good fit until you find out he signed a two-year deal with the Kontinental Hockey League.
One of the wildcards in this draft will be the Calgary Flames. With the team’s tear-down at the trade deadline, GM Jay Feaster has three first round picks (with a total of nine picks overall), and it’s quite possible you’ll see a draft day trade to move up in the order. Their current draft position is 6th, with the other positions to be determined following playoffs.
The Oilers, another enigma, could make a trade splash. Despite choosing first overall for three straight seasons, the young, superstar-laden team has yet to crack the playoffs. The team is heavy upfront, while not so much anywhere else.
They have several options. They could trade their pick. A top ten pick in this draft could be worth some excellent payback. Or they could choose to move one of their scorers Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov, for a defender. They could also choose to go for a netminder like Zach Fucale, who despite being the top-rated North American goalie, is slated to go late in the first round. Through 14 playoff games Fucale has posted a 1.95 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. The only problem there is goalies usually take a while to develop and the Oilers don’t have that luxury.
The safe route sees the Oilers picking up a blueliner in Rasmus Ristolainen, Darnell Nurse or Nikita Zadorov. But the likelihood of new General Manager Craig MacTavish going for the safe route is unlikely. If you’re looking for a blockbuster during draft and free agent weekend, it could be made by Edmonton